The Price of Entitlement

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”

― Brené Brown, Research Professor, University of Houston and bestselling author

“Is this true?” I glanced up from the newspaper article, puzzled. “The City’s offering you $10,000 in compensation?”

Ron’s eyes burned with an intense gaze. “Can you imagine? Evict a man from his sanctuary and toss him what amounts to pocket change as though he’s a beggar! And if that’s not enough—” His face flushed crimson, “they send bulldozers to erase any trace of my home.”

I hesitated, grappling for the right words. Ron’s “sanctuary” was, in reality, a dilapidated shack teetering on the banks of the Saskatchewan River. A shelter he neither owned nor paid rent or taxes for, a place he’d squatted for years. His laments about “meddlesome kids” pilfering his scant belongings were still fresh in my memory. Maybe because he claimed to have helped build the shack in his youth, or perhaps because he had lived there long enough to call it home, he felt he had a right to the property.

Ron was a perplexing figure, a regular in our local writers’ group – liked by some, despised by others, tolerated by most. He always alluded to past careers—as a painter, a carnival barker, or a stage hypnotist—but never offered proof. When he spoke, he had a knack for weaving stories that made you question the boundary between reality and fiction. Many felt that he only joined the group to use the office, the typewriter and office supplies. And now, he was at the centre of a community melodrama, christened the “Saskatchewan River Squatter” by the local media.

Ignoring the City’s offer, Ron brazenly demanded more, anchoring himself in his entitlement. But the City pulled back, unequivocally stating that $10,000 was an ample settlement for a squatter’s claim. Left without a place to call home, Ron ended up inhabiting the cramped back of an ageing green panel van that he strategically parked near the local seniors’ centre. Adequate during summer, but his whereabouts were uncertain in winter.

Ron’s passionate speeches painted a picture of a man with robust self-esteem, but I later discovered that his enthusiasm was fueled by something else entirely – a misguided conviction that the world was in his debt and, even more distressingly, that it was tardy in settling its dues.

Ron’s story is a cautionary tale, illustrating how confusing entitlement with self-esteem can lead to devastating consequences. By understanding the differences, we can aim for a balanced life enriched with genuine accomplishments and meaningful relationships.

While self-esteem reflects a balanced understanding of one’s worth, entitlement involves an overestimation of it. Self-esteem is about recognizing our inherent value as a human being and your achievements. In contrast, entitlement forgets the achievement part and demands what we think we deserve. Ron bypassed the legal, ethical, and social norms that apply when claiming property ownership. His inflated self-view overrode these, resulting in a devastating loss.

The same can happen in other contexts, such as personal relationships or workplaces. When entitlement runs rampant, it can alienate friends, family, and colleagues. It can cause rifts between people who otherwise might work well together. Ron lost his community support, essential to maintaining healthy self-esteem, by allowing his entitlement to paint him into a corner.

Genuine self-esteem is characterized by gratitude, the ability to see one’s worth, an appreciation for the roles of others and opportunities that life provides. “Entitlement and gratitude cannot occupy the same space,” wrote Christina Dawson, an American author known for her insights into human behaviour. Indeed, gratitude can be the antidote to entitlement. It helps us calibrate our self-view, providing a more grounded perspective on what we deserve versus what we have earned.

Ron’s story serves as a compelling case study on the complexities of self-esteem and entitlement, two psychological constructs often mistakenly seen as synonymous.

In every practical sense, Ron was now homeless. He became a regular fixture at the seniors’ complex, showing up early for breakfast and lunch and helping himself to the leftovers while staff cleaned up. And until the end, he nursed a deep-seated resentment, a belief that he had been unjustly deprived of what he deserved. One morning, staff noticed that his usual corner seat for morning coffee was vacant. An investigation revealed that he had quietly passed away in his sleep, tucked away in the back of his van.

There is a lesson to be learned from Ron’s unfortunate experience: It’s important to distinguish between earned self-esteem and unearned entitlement. By fostering a healthy understanding of our worth, fueled by personal growth, emotional intelligence, and tangible accomplishments, we pave the way for a satisfying life marked by genuine relationships and a feeling of belonging to a community.

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